Ithaca College has chosen two finalists — Canvas and Brightspace — for its newest learning management system (LMS) to replace Sakai.
The college transitioned to Sakai in 2010 and will convert to a new LMS by summer 2021. At a Student Town Hall on Nov. 4, members of the advisory committee — a joint effort between Information Technology and the Office of the Provost — Casey Kendall, executive director of applications and infrastructure for Information Technology, and sophomores Austin Ruffino and Deontae Guy spoke about the potential new LMS. Kendall said that the college is moving away from Sakai because students and faculty have expressed dissatisfaction with the platform.
Brightspace by Desire 2 Learn (D2L) is another learning management system that works to provide learning environments for all grade levels and corporations. Higher–education institutions that use the system include Southern New Hampshire University, Algonquin College, and Texas A&M University–Commerce.
Ruffino said the committee determined the candidates based on both companies’ market shares increasing while Sakai’s has been decreasing. According to a report by e–Literate, a higher–education company, in 2018, Sakai had 623,352 individuals at higher–education institutions in North America using its program while Brightspace had 3,630,239 and Canvas had 8,622,595.
“The number of people using Sakai has been going down and down since basically its first burst of users,” Ruffino said. “All of the original contributors that created Sakai in the first place has since stopped using Sakai and have transitioned to Canvas, which is one of our final two candidates.”
Ruffino spoke about the reliability issues that members of Ithaca College have faced with Sakai.
“We all know that we’ve had issues with being able to access Sakai all the time and accessibility is something really important, especially with remote classes where all of the stuff we’re doing is from Sakai,” Ruffino said. “As Sakai is evolving. It’s requiring more resources to support it, and the problem is the resources are going up in a pace where the school cannot keep up with.”
Kendall said the college decided to make the move now as more K-12 schools are beginning to use more LMSs. Kendall said incoming college students are going to expect the college to have a modern LMS.
Third-party integration, like online tools outside Sakai that need to be linked in order to work, is another issue with Sakai. Even though the program is open source, Kendall said the school is spending approximately $70,000–$100,000 a year for it.
On Nov. 9, D2L will hold a Zoom demonstration of its program from 5 to 7 p.m. for students. Instructure will also hold its own Zoom demonstration for Canvas on Nov. 13 from 5 to 7 p.m. for students. These will be recorded and there will be a survey for faculty, staff and students to provide feedback following the presentations. The committee is also hoping to provide an LMS recommendation sometime this month but is encouraging students, and especially seniors, to partake and give their perspectives into what might be the college’s next LMS, Kendall and Guy said.
After that recommendation is given, a pilot program will begin during Spring 2021. Kendall said only a select number of classes will participate in that program as they do not want to put stress on the entire faculty. During that program, the classes chosen will begin to work in the newest LMS to test it and see how the students and faculty respond. The committee will also work to provide more training and migration support before and during the new LMS begins course builds. Kendall said that the new LMS will go live in summer 2021 and Sakai will be shut off later in Fall 2021.
Once the presentation ended, the town hall moved to a question-and-answer session with the 12 attendees who came to the meeting. Concerns brought up by those attending included the process of the pilot program, professors’ knowledge of the LMS and issues students have with Sakai today and how they hope those are eliminated with the new system.
Junior Leticia Guibunda asked if students will be able to provide input during the pilot phase of the newest LMS and if the school would consider other LMS options if the new one is not well received.
To get more student responses, Kendall said that a similar town hall will be held during the pilot program.
Senior Connor Shea said he noticed that professors’ current knowledge of Sakai is varied and that training for the next LMS should be required for all faculty. Shea said that he is more stressed in classes that do not have good Sakai pages. He said the LMS should not be an afterthought and it should be integral in the learning experience.
Kendall agreed with him and said it is not a huge investment in time or money to provide faculty training for that. Guy said he also shared the same views as Shea and thinks more students probably feel the same way.
“That’s the first piece of feedback I gave to the committee because I felt we need to be really intentional with what we do. … It [faculty LMS training] should be close to required,” Guy said.
Students who attended the event said there are some aspects of Sakai that they enjoy and hope will continue with the new LMS, including an announcement page to remind students of work, as well as the ability to view previous courses.
“I have not even started my [Integrative Core Curriculum] capstone and I’m really relying on going back to my freshman–year courses on Sakai to get stuff for that and I know I’m not the only one in that boat,” senior Tanner George said.
Guy said this town hall showed him that he is not alone when it comes to his struggles and concerns about Sakai and that it was nice to hear some of those repeated by other students.
“Sakai has been challenging,” Guy said. “I mean it’s been good, but it’s been challenging operating with professors using it in so many different ways.”